The Importance of Being Ryan: Part 1

When I was in my early 20s, I was living in a loft in the mile end neighborhood of Montreal, and playing in a rock and roll band called the Model Children. We were a hip, buzz band for about a year in Montreal, and we managed to get on some pretty big shows, opening for Interpol, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Hot Hot Heat just as the whole post-Strokes, 80s revival, indie rock thing was blowing up. It was an intense experience and the band was made up of some larger than life personalities. Being in that band felt like waging war: every time we went into the practice space, it was an all out street fight to get your ideas across. Tensions were made all the worse by the fact that some of us lived together.

Against this backdrop I fell in love with a whip smart, diminutive journalism student who had a small apartment across from the Beaudry metro in the gay village. Going there was a blessed retreat in my life. A sweet pocket where I could get away from the domineering personalities, noise, and intensity.

The journalist was also a music fan, and worked for a well known in-flight magazine. She would often score free CDs from the office and we would work our way through them in time.

One of these Cds was Ryan Adams’ Gold.

As a massive Ryan Adams fan now, I should disclose that my initial impressions were not overly positive. It all sounded a bit too lushly produced for my ears at the time, like a slightly more twangy Rob Thomas.

Then the songs started to sink in. One in particular, “La Cienga Just Smiled,” featured a simple, plaintive piano figure set against a gently strummed, persistent acoustic guitar. The song told the tale of the immediate aftermath of a break up, where the character wonders how he could “end up feeling so bad, for such a little girl.”

It was at the end of our second summer together that the journalist decided to uproot and move across Canada to Edmonton. During my last visit to her place I grabbed the CD and said “I’m keeping Gold.”

Over time, I have come to realize that Gold is that quintessential perfect album. On all levels it shines. Ethan Johns’ production is pitch perfect with just the right amount of big budget sheen and gloss, and some of the most full bodied yet gentle mixes released during the aughts. The ensemble playing between Ryan and his band is flawless. The parts are interesting and interlocking but never bland or stock. And then there are the songs: Gorgeous songs like “When the Stars Go Blue,” “Firecracker,” “New York, New York,” “Answering Bell” “Somehow, Someday” and “Sylvia Plath,” still stand out as some of the strongest of the RA canon.

This Friday at our RA tribute, the setlist will be heavily weighted with Gold.


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